Dhule medical student returns from Philippines, says booking tickets was just the tip of the hardships she faced

From spending two months in a room in the Philippines, to struggling to get into the flight only to land in Ahmedabad and then getting stuck for 18 long hours only because of the ‘miscommunication’ between the state governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra, a 22-year-old medical student finally met her family members earlier this week. Her journey has been difficult with too many hurdles cropping up on her way back home in Dhule district.

The student, Vasundhara Pawar, a resident of Shirpur in Dhule was in Manila, in the Philippines, for the past few years for her graduation in a medical course. "We were stuck there in Manila as the government had announced a complete lockdown by March 11 and, subsequently, all international flights were canceled. There, the authorities ensured that lockdown was enforced strictly. We couldn't even step out of the house, but the Indian diaspora there was quite helpful for us," Pawar, who has been kept in a quarantine center at Dhule.

"We were relieved to hear of the Vande Bharat initiative by the union government. But the process to register ourselves and to board a flight was too much hectic," Pawar added.

According to Pawar, the union government has charged exorbitant rates for flight tickets, which is double the routine rates. "Usually, we book tickets (one side) for Rs 15,000 or something. But the union government has charged us Rs 30,000 for one side journey from Manila to Ahmedabad. This amount, we pay normally for a return ticket. Not all of us 24 had the requisite money, we had to seek help from our families," Pawar pointed out.

"Worst was that we had to pay this amount within 30 minutes of registering online and that too with least payment options. They didn't allow us to pay through PayTM or a debit card, amongst others, but by UPI app. Booking tickets itself was a struggle. We were unaware of the difficulties that were awaiting us," Pawar said.

Even as they booked tickets, they were disallowed from boarding the flight as their visa had expired. They could board the flights back to India only after the Indian Ambassador to the Philippines intervened and extended their visa for one more hour.

"Somehow, we managed to get back to India and our flight landed at Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Initially, we were to board a Mumbai flight, but due to the visa issues, we missed that one and had to take this Ahmedabad flight. The Ambassador had assured us that he has written to the Maharashtra government to coordinate with their counterparts in Gujarat," Pawar said.

However, the promise made by the Ambassador turned out to be a farce, allege Pawar, who claims that she along with her 23 other friends was stuck in Gujarat. "After landing here, we learned that the Maharashtra government has not been informed of our arrival. We wanted to come to our home state but the authorities in Gujarat disallowed us. They insisted on giving a letter from the Maharashtra government allowing us to enter its borders," Pawar claimed.

The real struggle then started and this was to convince politicians and authorities here in Maharashtra to give a green signal.

"Authorities in Gujarat wanted to put us in quarantine for 14 days, but we refused. This was because, even after we complete the quarantine period there, we will have to again get quarantined for 14 days in Maharashtra, followed by home quarantine for 15 days. But the government officials from Maharashtra were not ready to help us while we were stranded at Gujarat's Tapi," Pawar said.

According to Pawar, 21 of them were stuck at Tapi while three girls were stuck at Vapi. All of them, many from Mumbai, had taken to Twitter to highlight their plight as despite a series of communications and calls, no authority came ahead to help them out. She also said that Abhijit Raut, the CEO of Sangli zilla parishad, helped them by contacting the collector of Nandurbar and all the arrangements were made with his help.

"We even tweeted to Aditya Thackeray, but there was no response, which hurt us a lot as he is a youth leader. We could reach our state only after MP Nitin Gadkari intervened and wrote a letter to the Nandurbar collector. We were then immediately brought back to Maharashtra in special buses and further to our hometowns in cars, which the Collector did not charge a single penny," Pawar added.

As of now, Pawar has been quarantined in a hotel near her house and she would soon be subjected to a swab test. Once the report comes, authorities would decide accordingly. "But for this hotel, I am paying from my own pocket and no government is bearing the cost. I was told that institutional quarantine would be free but nothing as such could be seen," Pawar claimed.

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